Do you like Westerns?
Don’t answer that. You fucking love Westerns.

Whether or not it was thanks to Clint Eastwood’s immeasurable manliness, everybody now knows that cowboys and the untamed west were gritty, deadly, and badass as hell.

Red Dead Redemption reflects this better than any game I’ve ever seen. Even Sunset Riders.

The historical accuracy is almost dead-on. Everything from prostitute attire to architecture to blatant racism is all captured excellently. It’s pretty clear that the game strives to be realistic in everything it does.

I mean, there are a few inaccuracies with a couple of the guns and other small things, but it’s pretty obvious that most of these are in place to balance out the gameplay. For example, the LeMat revolver in-game uses a top-break reloading system and loads metal cartridges. However, if it was 100% accurate, it would take a good minute or two to reload the damn thing.

Red Dead Redemption is full to overflowing with, well, stuff. Minigames exist of all the expected cowboy passtimes like horseshoes, poker, five-finger-fillet, etc. There are bounties you can take care of dead or alive, you can patrol town at night fighting crime, and even out in the wild there is almost always some kind of trouble going on for you to get involved in. All of these things either reward you with money or “honor” (a sort of good/bad bar{no ugly}), and you can do everything at your own leisure, outside of missions.

Aside from missions and minigames, all the small things and details make the game seem more alive. There are at least 20 different kinds of animals out in the wild, all in plentiful supply, and all have their own areas on the map where they can usually be found. Every animal can be killed and skinned, and then you can sell said skins for more money. There are a lot more weapons than I expected, too. I mean like, there are four different kinds of shotguns alone. And let’s not forget that it uses the RAGE physics engine from GTA4. Knocking someone out in a fistfight feels pretty rewarding as you watch them stumble around before falling down and knocking a bunch of shit over.

The game controls pretty much exactly like GTA4, but with a toned-down aiming system (locking on to enemies isn’t as automatic), that can actually be altered to better suit the player. “Casual” aiming locks right on to the nearest target and won’t let go until you stop aiming. “Normal” aiming locks on to a target if they were already really close to the center of the camera. It only stays locked on for a second or two, and free-aiming is still possible. “Expert” aiming is completely free-aim.

If there are any negative qualities to Red Dead Redemption, it’s basically all nitpicking. As I mentioned, even though the guns are all modeled after real world counterparts, they aren’t really accurate in their performance and stats. Also, I don’t really like how Marston automatically holsters his weapon if you aren’t using it for four seconds. Especially after my bear hunting escapades. I don’t even want to remember the number of times I’d finally caught up to that bear to try and stab it, only for Marston to push it’s ass like he was picking a fight with it, because he had automatically put away the knife.

Oh, that’s right, there are actual negative things. With some copies, or some systems, or maybe even completely by chance, the game can be really buggy. Like, “Every so often, you’ll fly 50 feet in the air and land in the middle of a group of enemies” buggy. My copy and Lee’s copy are just fine, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories.

Aside from the single player game, there are also online multiplayer modes. The biggest and most notable is “Free Roam”, which is like a lobby where you are given the entire map to just screw around in with up to about 15 people or so. Unfortunately, this online free-roam is an extremely stripped-down version of the single player mode. There are no trains, animals spawn less frequently, there are no random events, no minigames, no lasso, and nearly nothing to do besides shoot at each other, or at enemy NPCs at gang hideouts. There are also your standard deathmatch and capture the flag game modes, but they’re really nothing special.

Almost everything you do in free roam and in matches scores you XP, filling the XP bar that replaces money, honor, and fame. XP will level you up like you’d expect, letting you unlock better guns, better mounts, more titles and more playable characters. Unfortunately, given that there is not much to do online, getting enough XP to unlock all the characters or mounts is really a harsh grind for very little reward. However, Rockstar has promised to add free roam co-op missions as free DLC soon. Here’s hoping they also add minigames sometime as well.

So, summing up, Red Dead Redemption is the cowboy game that cowboy games should be. Oh shit, I forgot to mention the story. The story is actually really really well done. The characters are great, too. But there are some surprises, so avoid talking on message boards until you’ve beaten it.

Written June 3, 2010

(At 96% game completion in single player, clocking in over 40 hours. Level 30 online.)